28 February 2022

The story of Environa: the suburb that never made it

| James Coleman
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Environa

All that remains of the grand plans of Henry Halloran. Photo: James Coleman.

Environa Drive opened to motorists late last year, providing a life-giving artery to a whole new suburb just over the ACT border. The new road provides access to more than 1500 homes, sporting facilities, parks, a STEM-based high school and commercial buildings of South Jerrabomberra.

According to the developers, the first house and land packages have been settled, with the next stage under construction.

An expansive town park has also been approved by Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) late last year as a centrepiece for the whole estate.

Another key feature is a proposal for an outdoor dining precinct right on the park’s edge, advertised as a place where families can eat, drink and relax while watching the kids play. The vision includes a microbrewery or gastropub, some restaurants and potentially a bakery-café.

“There’s nothing like it in the region.” Village Building Company (ACT Region) general manager Jamie Cregan said at the time.

Construction at South Jerrabomberra

Construction on South Jerrabomberra underway, just over the hill from the old Environa. Photo: James Coleman.

It isn’t the first time those words have been used to describe a development in this area.

Visitors to a community meeting in Tuggeranong back in April 1929 were treated to a first look at a new subdivision east of the ACT border.

The Canberra Times was there and reported “the beauty of the situation appealed to all”.

“A very picturesque area of over 150 acres bounded by the willow-lined Jerrabomberra Creek has been set apart for an 18-hole golf course, which it is hoped, will become famous,” they reported.

“In the centre of the estate is a circular park of above five acres, around which is being formed in ornamental stonework, a garden. At the main entrance are two fine stone pillars, 17 feet high and six feet in diameter, and the other entrances, from which roads radiate, are being given a special design.”

Environa

Map of Environa: the proposed suburb was strongly influenced by Walter Burley Griffin. Photo: National Library of Australia.

Environa was the dreamchild of Henry Ferdinand Halloran, a Sydney-born surveyor.

After making a name for himself with a scheme that would turn Jervis Bay into ‘Pacific City’, a bustling port to serve the whole of the south-east and with rail connections to Canberra, he turned his attention to the Queanbeyan district.

All residential land in the ACT has always been sold under lease arrangements, so technically nobody buys land in the nation’s capital, they lease it for a term of 99 years. By developing land just over the border in NSW, Halloran hoped to tempt buyers with a proposition that would see them own their land while still enjoying proximity to the new and growing city.

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In 1924, he bought a plot of grazing land at auction and set about his most ambitious idea yet.

Environa provided over 1700 blocks and included sites for businesses, banks, theatres, recreation centres and parks. A number of bandstands, including one at Outlook Hill, the highest point on the estate, were going to be centres for community recreation.

The design was heavily influenced by a former colleague of his, Walter Burley Griffin, with roads extending in wide circles around central avenues. Street names were inspired by Europe and politics, including Rue de Paris, Piazza di Roma, Speakers Avenue and Electoral Square.

Environa

Bandstands were designed to overlook recreational areas. Photo: James Coleman.

Halloran himself was far from modest, advertising the design as “a masterpiece of town planning on beautiful undulating land with far-reaching views and overlooking the wonderful city of Canberra itself”.

By the time of the grand reveal in 1929, some of it had even been built. Several bandstands, grand stone archways and decorative stone pillars brought the paddock to life. Halloran had picked up a stone bust of Henry Parkes at a second-hand shop in Sydney and mounted it to the top of a 12-metre stone pillar at the heart of the estate. The main topmast from the cruiser HMAS Sydney, which sank a German raiding ship in 1914, was erected as a memorial.

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But before more than a few blocks could be sold, the Great Depression struck, and Halloran’s grand plans for both Environa and Jervis Bay were scuttled.

The paddocks morphed into the unofficial football oval for the capital, while further down, national motorsport events started rolling into the Tralee Speedway.

Environa

The plans for Environa, as seen on Google Maps today. Photo: Google Maps.

Today, the layout can still be found on Google Maps, lying directly behind the industrial estate of Hume. The new Environa Drive runs through the estate, providing glimpses of the old stone work and bandstands. The bust of Parkes is gone, removed after becoming a target for local vandals, while Sydney‘s mast collapsed due to dry rot at the base. It lay in a shed for three decades before being moved to its new home in a Jervis Bay museum.

The land itself is still in the Halloran family. His grandson David Larcombe is currently an investor in the new Poplars development underway in the area.

Close to 100 years later, it seems Environa is coming back.

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Don Mountain4:52 pm 03 Mar 22

The new developers don’t have the same vision as Henry Halloran; why change the name “Environa” to a boring South lerrabomberra?

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